Director April Sweeney writes in her “Director’s Note” for Dance Nation that the world of this play is one in which “heavy objects fall from the sky, thigh bones break, pre-pubescent girls grow fangs… and a ritual of adolescence comes into focus.”
Claire Barron’s Dance Nation does certainly cover a lot of thematic ground, through the lens of 13-year old girls and one boy, all of whom are competing collectively (and individually) to reach the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay.
The performances were impressive, brought to life by a stand-out cast. The troop of 13-year-old protagonists really carried the play, as portrayed by seniors Cheyenne Rosado and Minjoo Kim; sophomores Isabella Fiacco, Alex Tran and Florence Almquist Checa and first years Janiiya Hart and Abby Hamilton. They perfectly captured the insecurities, goofiness and internal thoughts of early teens exploring themselves and their relationships with simultaneous innocence and maturity. The supporting characters were a pleasant surprise as well—particularly the mothers played by junior Elaine Wang and senior Andrea Cornelius.
As for the production value, the creative team really made the most out of it. The sets were resourceful—displaying different rooms, outside scenery and more. One particularly well set up scene featured the home lives of at least three different characters at once, one of which was above the other sets. Special effects, like fake blood, were effective and unexpected, and the dances were intriguing and thought-provoking. It makes one appreciate the performers all the more, seeing that they learned this prop-based choreography in addition to their lines.
Overall, the play was emotionally powerful, providing commentary on feminism, maturation, self-worth, competition and friendship. We get glimpses into each character’s lives, where little things like car rides matter so much. Each character is compelling and unique. Ashlee is set apart by her hidden outspokenness, Amina by her “breathless” talent and Sofia by her humor. It sheds light on a stage of life that is often confusing and complicated to many individuals as they grow up. It demonstrates the difficulties that come with being a tween, a liminal space where one is no longer a child and not yet an adult.
When compared to a majority of other Colgate productions, Dance Nation is actually quite conventional, despite many of its experimental elements. The simplistic structure of this play likely attracted a larger crowd throughout its running time between November 1 and 5, as it should; Colgate’s well-crafted production deserves all the attention it gets and more. The performance left the audience struck by their own nostalgic pasts. The audience went out into the night reminded of their own pre teen angst and the challenges they faced along the way into adulthood.